Marchers find Columbus streets inhospitable
by Steph Greegor / June 12, 2008
Cuffed and curbed: Marcher Luv the Mezenger finds himself in the hands of the law
Photo copyright Marie Littlemoon
Woven into the fabric of United States history is the battle between the Native Americans and the white settlers. Apparently, it’s a battle that continues to be waged.
It came to a head once again recently—this time, on the streets of Columbus, when a group of some 50 Native Americans, involved in a five-month cross-country march to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original Longest Walk that sparked passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, crossed paths with Columbus police on West Broad Street June 2. Police say they were only trying to maintain civil order.
“We got asked from the Columbus police if we had a permit,” said Luv the Mezenger, a Native American providing security and safety for his fellow walkers. “The officer asked—or more like told—me to get on the sidewalk or he would cite us.”
The confrontation escalated from there, ultimately resulting in Mezenger being handcuffed and detained, then later released and issued a citation for “pedestrian in the roadway,” a fineable misdemeanor offense.
The group said they were advised by the Ohio Department of Transportation to walk through Franklin County by way of Rt.40, which is Broad Street, through Columbus. When confronted by police about walking in the streets, the group initially complied with the officer’s request to stay on the sidewalk, but they quickly spilled back onto the road, according to both Mezenger and Columbus police spokesperson Amanda Ford.
More Columbus police responded, and soon, multiple squad cars and a paddy wagon and a dozen or so officers were on the scene trying to keep the crowd on the sidewalk.
Mezenger said he was forcefully moved from the street, where he said he was directing marcher traffic, to the sidewalk by an officer.
“The cop just got on this ego trip—he just wanted control,” Mezenger said. “It was all about control.”
Police said Mezenger lunged at one of the officers while Michael Lane, the group’s legal advisor, “squared up” to a Columbus police lieutenant on-scene.
“Anyone in law enforcement will tell you, if you square up to a police officer, he’ll think you’re looking for a fight,” Ford said.
But there was no fight. Videos posted to YouTube and photos of the incident show police talking to Lane, standing amid the group, with Mezenger in handcuffs.
Posts by marchers on the Internet also claim police pointed a Taser at Lane’s head.
“One of them had a mace gun at his forehead,” Mezenger said.
A mace gun?
“Yeah, a mace…oh, I meant Taser, not mace,” he said.
Columbus police are well-versed in crowd control, says Ford, who points to Ohio State football Saturdays as evidence, when crowds surge to the campus-area streets.
“We use the exact same procedures. We call out police and they try and move the crowd back to the sidewalk,” said Ford. “We’ve had to mace students to get them back on the sidewalk.”
She said it’s not uncommon for police to display and use mace or Tasers when controlling a crowd. It’s a trained technique to help create order out of chaos, she said.
Mezenger said they were just doing what the laws allow them to do.
“We were exercising our Freedom of Religion Act rights,” he said. “They had no authority over our prayer. We’re doing what we know is well within our rights. They should have gone through the proper channels before they did anything.”
Mezenger then concedes Columbus police likely were the proper channels.
“I understand the logistics of protocol of having city permits,” he said. “And I could understand if nobody was notified and we were jaywalking. But when you have the Department of Transportation and other people who are well aware of what’s going on, and when you have a line of people walking and children in front carrying a staff, I don’t see how any other perception could have been made by police.”
Ford counters that walking down Broad Street in the middle of the day was a risk for everyone involved.
“What if someone would have hit one of those children?” she said. “It was a risk to them, to drivers who could have hit someone, and it was slowing down traffic during a busy part of the day.”
Mezenger argues they had it under control. Because the spiritual walk requires the person carrying the staff to be continuously moving, Mezenger said he and his security team had become experts at safely walking out in the street and stopping traffic at major intersections.
“No matter who you are,” said Ford, “you can’t stop traffic in downtown Columbus and walk through the streets.”
For now, the incident is over, but not soon forgotten.
“They psychologically terrorized and emotionally damaged the kids that were in the car—they were my kids. That’s what broke my heart, that they had to see that,” said Mezenger. “I’m not expecting an apology. I’m not even thinking about what I’m going to do. But I’m considering filing a suit after this is all done. That’s all I can really say about it.”